Food forests are by definition, supposed to be low maintenance. Permaculture means permanent agriculture – do it once, and reap the benefits for the rest of time.
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This, however, does not mean that there is no maintenance involved in having a food forest, especially as it is getting established.
Steps to Maintaining an Edible Food Forest Garden
Step one to maintaining a food forest: Keep the weeds down
Most plants do best without competition, at least until they are established.
When you set up your food forest, ideally you will have cleared all the weeds, and done some steps to suppress the weeds. Mulch and cover crops are the two that come to mind.
Weed seeds will get blown in, and more invasive weeds that naturally occur in the ground will continue to appear until they are shaded and out-competed.
Once a month over the growing season, spend some time removing weeds, you can chop and drop annual weeds that don’t have seeds on them. Perennial weeds, weeds with seeds and any weed roots should be removed from the site.
Step two: Add mulch
If you have an outbreak of weeds, your mulch layer is getting too thin. Either add more wood mulch, compost or chop and drop some of the cover crops to cover the ground more thickly.
Nature does not like bare soil, and she is always working her way towards re-establishing the native bush.
This means that those small annual weeds will keep growing, until the soil thinks it is a forest floor. The fastest way to convince the soil that it is a forest floor, is by adding lots of wood mulch and encouraging fungi to get established.
This is a brilliant video explaining bacterial and fungal balance in soil. In summary the more bacterial dominant the soil the more weeds you will have, the more fungi, the less weeds.
Step three: Pruning your food forest
Most of the plants in a food forest should be beneficial and productive. Many of these plants also need to be pruned to keep the plants optimally productive.
Heavy pruning to ensure good fruit tree shapes in the first few years will set you up for more production and good shaped plants in the future.
This is probably my favourite pruning video:
Prune later in your food forest development to maintain tree size, let light in to lower plants, remove diseased wood, and thin out plants that are not producing well for you.
Part of this section is also to remove plants to forward the succession. Some of the faster growing, early established trees can be removed as the more long term trees grow and develop.
For example you may have planted a fast growing windbreak of alder or tagasaste, but once your slower growing, but longer term windbreak of nut pines get big enough, you can remove the alder/tagasaste and turn them in to firewood and or wood mulch for the forest floor.
Step four: Add more plants
Variety is the spice of life, this is especially so in a food forest!
Keep adding beneficial plants, herbs, flowers, fruits and ground covers.
As your forest develops you may find that you can grow plants in your forest micro climate that would not have survived at your place in the past. The Guytons growing apricots in Riverton is a great example.
Step five: Enjoy!
Harvest your fruits, herbs and other foods as they become ready for harvest. Leaving some to flower and go to seed.
Spend time in your food forest, observe it, learn its patterns and know what is working and not working. Install a park bench and use it!